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Lutheran pastor apologizes for praying in Newtown vigil
People pray at the interfaith vigil in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
February 7th, 2013
01:34 PM ET

Lutheran pastor apologizes for praying in Newtown vigil

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – A Lutheran pastor has apologized after being chastised by his denomination's leader for offering a prayer at an interfaith vigil for the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Pastor Rob Morris, who leads the Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, violated the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's rule against taking part in joint worship services, said the synod's president, Pastor Matthew C. Harrison.

Participation could be seen as endorsing "false teaching" because some among the diverse group of religious leaders at the vigil hold beliefs different from those of synod.

The vigil, which was attended by President Barack Obama, was a high-profile part of the healing process for the families of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.

One of the victims of the shooting was a young congregant of Morris' church.

In an open letter posted online, Harrison wrote that because of "the presence of prayers and religious readings" and the fact that "other clergy were vested for their participation," the event was a "joint worship with other religions."

"I could draw no conclusion other than that this was a step beyond the bounds of practice allowed by the Scriptures," Harrison wrote. "There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don't matter in the end."

Harrison then "asked Pastor Morris to apologize for taking part in the service" because he "violated the limits set by Scripture regarding joint worship" and "gave offense" to the Lutheran leadership.

A day after Harrison's letter was posted, Morris apologized in another open letter.

"To those who believe that I have endorsed false teaching, I assure you that was not my intent, and I give you my unreserved apologies," Morris wrote in a letter to the Lutheran leadership. "I apologize where I have caused offense by pushing Christian freedom too far, and I request you charitably receive my apology."

In the same letter, however, Morris defends his decision to participate, writing that he believed his participation was "not an act of joint worship, but an act of community chaplaincy."

"Those who have followed the news reports are aware that this event is not quite like anything that has happened before," Morris wrote. "I believe (and I fervently pray) that my ministry will never involve a parallel situation to the one that faced my congregation and community that weekend."

According to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, participating in joint worship events, particularly with religions that "reject Jesus," is forbidden and violated the synod's constitution. In his letter, Harrison cited Romans 16:17 as the justification for this rule.

"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned," the passage reads. "Keep away from them."

Morris is not the first Lutheran pastor to be reprimanded for participating in an interfaith event. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, a New York pastor was suspended for participating in a similar interfaith event memorializing those killed in attack on the World Trade Center.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Lutheran • United States

soundoff (980 Responses)
  1. jzaks

    Religious people = nuts

    February 8, 2013 at 6:17 am |
  2. TiredOfTheMedia

    Anyone else notice the error of the "September 11, 2011" terrorist attacks? ......more shoddy reporting.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:15 am |
  3. sr

    By the way.....the Lutheran church is named after a man, Martin Luther,,,,It is not after God or Jesus Christ.
    And they think they have the only true Christian faith?
    How many Lutherans are mentioned in the Bible?
    Denominations like this divide the body of Christ.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:04 am |
    • Howard

      I thought the Romans did that.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:25 am |
  4. Jonline

    Holy Christ. What an open and loving church. Since they believe in a maker, I am sure he will condemn them to hell for their hate.

    February 8, 2013 at 6:03 am |
  5. sr

    Should we bend the knee to God as this pastor has done or submit to man?
    Jesus always condemned the religious order of his day for enforcing man made rules.
    Jesus ate and drank with sinners and was criticized by the religious leaders of his day.
    Matt 15:8-9
    PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
    BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
    9 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
    TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'"

    February 8, 2013 at 5:58 am |
    • Bemused

      and you think the LC missouri synod rules are not man made?
      (if any god had made that rule that you can't mix and mingle with other denominations, he would not have allowed all those denominational breakups and splinter groups.)

      February 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  6. lol??

    The gubmint god demands a sacrifice and maybe he'll stop future tragedies. He's hinting he wants more of your God given rights on his alter for burnin'.

    February 8, 2013 at 5:34 am |
    • Jonline

      Make sense in the future please. There is a difference in being thought a fool and opening your mouth and proving you are.

      February 8, 2013 at 6:04 am |
  7. john vance

    I don't know anything about this stuff. Is the pastor allowed to attend if he does not offer prayers? Can rank and file members of the Lutheran Church go to such meetings?

    February 8, 2013 at 5:30 am |
  8. lol??

    Have the airhead pundits said, "it's time to heal." yet?

    February 8, 2013 at 5:26 am |
  9. ray

    Religeous BULLS@*T always trumps common decency.

    February 8, 2013 at 5:17 am |
  10. Adak95

    The pastor was trying to help those in need, as were the others. It is a shame and sin that the church would chastise this man of God. The leadership of the Lutheran church needs to Google, “Four Chaplains”, to find what real men of God do in times of crisis, to help comfort their fellow man. Shame on you Lutheran Church.

    February 8, 2013 at 4:40 am |
  11. Me

    You are interpreting the verse wrong. It's not your way or the highway and stay away from others. How else do you witness to them.

    February 8, 2013 at 4:37 am |
  12. GO_GOP

    Excellent job Lutheran church. Support you fully. The only true religion is Christianity as confirmed by the words of our savior Jesus Christ. All other religions are a part of Satan's plan to turn people away from our Lord. This pastor is an evil man and he would have been in hell by now had he not apologized. We need to weed out other religions like poisonous weed from our country.

    February 8, 2013 at 4:23 am |
    • Clark Griswold

      You do realize his church was mad at him for praying around other denominations of Protestantism, right?

      February 8, 2013 at 4:28 am |
    • Robert Ramos

      This is nuts. Whatever you call him, Budda, Allah, etc., it is still God.

      February 8, 2013 at 4:40 am |
    • Check

      Robert,

      God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Ra, Quetzalcoatl, Zeus, Jupiter or whatever you call your special supernatural being – all fantasies.

      (btw, Buddhists do not think that Buddha was a god, although they also have some of their own fantasies - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_in_Buddhism)

      February 8, 2013 at 4:50 am |
    • NYBoyxyz

      Please everyone this is not a 'real' reply. Look up 'Internet Troll' on Wikipedia and then skip to sub-section "Concern Troll." Don't take the bait.

      February 8, 2013 at 5:18 am |
    • overed

      GOP – you're ignorance is noted

      (I realize that that is redundant)

      February 8, 2013 at 6:19 am |
    • overed

      **oops – your, not you're**

      February 8, 2013 at 9:01 am |
  13. Ahem

    Ah, Religion. 20 babies die, and these people are fretting because people prayed to the wrong God... Wow.

    February 8, 2013 at 3:48 am |
    • lol??

      Not to fret, the gubmint god is in charge.

      February 8, 2013 at 5:25 am |
    • Bemused

      They didn't even pray to the 'wrong god', they just prayed with the wrong crowd. Oh what a mistake that was.

      February 8, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  14. ELCA member

    Yeah, the LCMS (and *especially* the WELS – I think the ELCA and LCMS can agree that many of their guidelines are out there) is somewhat unnaturally particular about things like this. They derive a lot of guidelines from very specific readings of ideas present in only one or two passages in the Bible. However, they are not the majority of Lutherans in the US – the ELCA is – and because the various Lutheran denominations vary so much in so many ways, I think it's important to make very clear which Lutherans are being talked about. The article did mention the "Lutheran Church Missouri Synod" but this can be confusing for non-Lutherans.

    While they mercifully keep their borderline "only we're going to heaven" doctrine out of politics and the public ear, for the most part (something for which I respect them greatly), that's the way the synod operates and I'm not surprised to hear something like this happened on that side of the Lutheran boat.

    Not saying that individual congregations and individuals in the church are all like that, of course. (or that the ELCA is perfect – its refusal to take a doctrinal stance when not deemed necessary or reasonable to pick is a cause of a lot of tension in the church and the ire of uninformed stalkers of what random ELCA congregations in the middle of nowhere practice). I also respect the president of the LCMS for speaking out and saying that the criticism of the pastor was unfounded – a response not mentioned in this article. I just thought it was necessary to point out that they aren't the only or even the majority of Lutherans.

    February 8, 2013 at 3:43 am |
  15. Toboggan

    The Luthern Church is spot on for chastising the pluralist preacher for siding with political correct ism. You either believe in something or you don't!

    February 8, 2013 at 3:30 am |
    • Cheese-Us of Nazareth

      And it shows the rest of America how bizarre and intolerant religion is. More atheists recruited.

      February 8, 2013 at 3:44 am |
  16. postedbygeo

    Extremism is what happens when people follow Middle Eastern Religions.

    February 8, 2013 at 3:22 am |
    • Sane Person

      You do realize Christianity was founded in Palestine right?

      February 8, 2013 at 5:27 am |
  17. BobMD

    Lutherans have gone off the deep end

    February 8, 2013 at 3:12 am |
    • trebor delk

      Yup and falling fast .I am a child of the old missouri synod ,grade school & highschool LCMS, but since 1967 they have become so far right I can not even see them. Perhaps they need to get down off of their high horse. They were ethnic German Christians then they morphed into ....I have no words. "Southern Babeltist jehadist" no words. I have choose the Roman Cathilic faith as the lesser of evils. I will pray for them and their wisdom

      February 8, 2013 at 3:33 am |
  18. CarlK

    Was born and raised in the LCMS in Northwest Ohio, so can appreciate the closed-off religious fantasy world the LCMS tries to maintain despite all the daily evidence from something called "reality". One of my favorite LCMS memories: ran into a newly- minted LCMS pastor I had met earlier while he was a vicar training here in STL. While chatting, he looked me in the eye and said, "You know, we are the only church with the true and pure Christian doctrine".

    February 8, 2013 at 3:08 am |
    • Jessica

      It's the "My religion" is better than yours thing. Everyone thinks that their religion is the only right one.

      Who will win? Quite possibly nobody will win.

      February 8, 2013 at 3:18 am |
  19. tenets gone wild!

    February 8, 2013 at 3:04 am |
  20. GBfromOhio

    Pastor Matthew C. Harrison ... you are an intolerant, self righteous, dogmatic, pathetic excuse of a human being.

    February 8, 2013 at 2:40 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.